People create wills not only to distribute property but also to give directions on how to manage their affairs. However, sometimes there are doubts about the decedent’s intent that must be resolved even if a will exists. If you suspect the decedent’s will wasn’t properly executed or that it might otherwise be invalid, you may be able to contest it in probate court if you have an interest in the estate.
There are several grounds for will contests in Washington. Among them is the failure to meet specific legal requirements for wills. A will must be in writing, signed by the maker (known as the testator) and witnessed by at least two competent individuals at the time of its execution. A will that lacks these formalities generally will not be accepted by the probate court.
Once a will has been admitted to probate, it is presumed to be valid. However, an heir or other person with an interest in the decedent’s estate may challenge the will by showing “clear, cogent, and convincing evidence” that it is invalid. A will contest must be filed within four months following the will’s admission to probate.
There are various grounds for a will contest, including:
- Incapacity — The testator must have been of a sound mind and fully capable of understanding the transaction when he or she signed the will.
- Fraud — The testator must not have been tricked into executing the instrument or have been made to believe it was another type of document.
- Undue influence — The testator must have executed the document on his or her own volition without the influence of anyone else.
- Duress — The testator must not have been threatened or coerced into signing the will.
- Forgery — A will must not have been falsified as to its contents or signatures.
A will may also be contested on the grounds that it was expressly revoked by the testator, that a subsequent will was executed or that a codicil significantly modified the will’s contents. Additionally, a will may be invalid in whole or in part because bequests in it are legally incapable of being carried out. For example, the testator’s spouse was named as a beneficiary but the marriage was then dissolved, or a named beneficiary predeceased the testator.
The outcome of a will contest is determined by a judge of the probate court without a jury. If the will is rejected, the decedent’s estate will be subject to state intestacy law, as though he or she died without leaving a will. That means certain family members are entitled to share the estate.
Contesting a will can be a complex matter and it’s best to have an experienced attorney who can walk you through the process. The legal team at Bottimore & Associates, P.L.L.C. has been assisting clients throughout Washington with will contests and estate planning matters for two decades. Call 253-272-5653 or contact us online to schedule a consultation at our Tacoma office.